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What We Considered
There's no shortage of diaper reviews, even for the cheap brands. We found hundreds of comments by parents on vendor sites, including Amazon, Viewpoints, Diapers.com, Target, and Walgreens, and on blogs, forums, and parenting sites such as BabyGearLab and Parents.com. As we read through the reviews, it became clear that several budget diaper brands do, in fact, satisfy all the critical criteria. That is, they're absorbent and only rarely leak, and fit most babies comfortably without irritating.
We Looked At
What every parent or caregiver wants is a diaper that keeps a baby dry and doesn't spew its contents, day or night. Not surprisingly, every diaper brand touts its multitude of absorbent layers (often with a proprietary formula) and a design that guards against leaks. If leakage is a recurring problem with any of the best cheap diapers, it's either time to move up to the next size or switch to a different brand.
Comparative testing of 24 different diapers by BabyGearLab included three of our picks: Target's Up & Up, Luvs Ultra Leakguards, and Huggies Snug & Dry. The experts weren't particularly impressed by these budget diapers, which turned in underwhelming performances compared with some pricier options. Tests found that the first two slightly bested the latter on leak protection but lagged in absorbency.
The in-home experience may be different, of course, and hundreds of parents assign positive ratings to all three brands, as well as to Pampers Baby Dry, for absorption and leakage. We did come across a spot of grumbling about overnight protection. (Tip: Try double diapering or a premium brand for sleep time; you can still save money by using budget diapers during the day.) Overall, though, the strong consensus in reviews is that these diapers neatly meet parents' expectations.
Compared with Target's Up & Up, other store brands don't fare so well. Judgments about Walgreens' Well Beginnings are inconsistent, and even the most supportive reviews often mention leakage, which may be due at least in part to the diaper's stiffness and lack of give.
BumGenius 4.0, a cloth diaper alternative, wins accolades from parents who have tried traditional cloth as well as disposables. Many assert BumGenius diapers are far less likely to leak, especially at night (an extra insert helps).
Budget-friendly doesn't have to mean low quality or unattractive, according to reviews of Up & Up diapers. This Target store brand boasts a devoted following thanks to a cheap price, chemical-free components, and hypoallergenic features. On the company website and elsewhere, scores of parents tell of their conversion following the recommendation of friends.
Some reviewers assert that Up & Up's performance exceeds that of high-priced diapers such as Pampers Swaddlers and Cruisers. And while a smattering of reviews grouse about leaks and blowouts (almost exclusively overnight), the vast majority accept the trade-off between affordability and okay performance, with low price compensating for any gaps. A few online posts say the brand works best through size 2, when babies aren't moving around as much; activity, they suggest, contributes to leakage. Up & Ups don't stretch quite as much as the premium brands, which may mean a less-than-snug fit on some children.
Unlike some budget diapers, Up & Up (from 16 cents/diaper, Target) come in a newborn size suitable for babies weighing up to 10 pounds. Size 1 should fit starting at 8 pounds and the line reaches the end at size 6, for children weighing 35 pounds or more. The first three sizes feature a wetness indicator. Diapers of all sizes are free of latex, perfumes, chlorine, and petroleum-based lotions; are made from natural materials (wood fluff pulp and cotton); and incorporate a hypoallergenic inner liner. The shape is contoured, the waist is adjustable, and the leg openings are dual-cuffed to stave off leakage. The fasteners are hook and loop and the outer shell is decorated in a polka-dot pattern.
BabyGearLab ranks Up & Up diapers No. 17 out of 24 tested but still dubs them a "great value." The Target brand was the cheapest of the lot and bested some higher-priced labels, including Fisher-Price Happy Days and Seventh Generation Free & Clear. They were weighed down by poor absorption and average leakage but floated higher with good ecological and health features. Indeed, plenty of parents appreciate the chemical-free qualities, although some report rashes breaking out after introducing the brand to the nursery.
Target's Up & Up diapers are a low-risk investment with potential for a high savings payoff if the diapers work for your child.
Luvs offers a money-back guarantee that draws in parents. The company says that if these value-priced diapers don't vanquish leaks as well as the brand you've been using, it will refund your money. Based on the scores of 5-star reviews at Amazon, it's probably safe to say not many parents request a refund.
Feedback posted at Viewpoints, where Luvs Ultra Leakguards diapers garner a solid 4-star average rating from nearly 1,600 reviews, is quite enthusiastic. Parents refer to Luvs as their go-to brand, one that's preferred over others because of price, performance, and ease of use (refastenable side tabs get frequent shout-outs, with one mother noting they make it easy to check what's going on inside). Some posts refer to leakage at night and needing to swap these out for a premium diaper (Pampers Swaddlers, for example) during sleep time. Others, however, are adamant that Luvs diapers hold their own through 10 or 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep, even for children who down loads of fluids. Discomfort rarely surfaces as an issue in parents' comments, although we did come across several reports about nasty rashes. The perfume scent proves a little strong for some noses.
Experts' view of Luvs Ultra Leakguards (from 17 cents/diaper, Amazon) diverges from that of most online reviewers. In comparative testing by BabyGearLab, this brand wins points for its low price and soft feel but earns demerits for leakage, absorption, and health and eco-friendliness. Among the sample of 24 different diapers, it ranks No. 20.
Features of note in Luvs Ultra Leakguards include large, extra-stretchy tabs and stretchy sides. The diapers are contoured with leak-protective gathered leg cuffs, and contain a proprietary "leakguard" core and a large absorbent area for overnight dryness. Luvs come in a newborn size (4 to 10 pounds) and sizes 1 through 6, the largest suited for toddlers weighing more than 35 pounds.
Overall this is a high-value diaper that satisfies legions of parents and babies.
Huggies is a wildly popular diaper brand, if thousands of reviews are any indication, with plenty of acclaim directed toward the budget-priced Snug & Dry line. The majority of comments posted at sites such as Amazon and Target assert that the "leak lock" feature, intended to provide up to 12 hours of protection, does indeed keep babies dry and clothing and bedding safe from overnight leakage. Sizing seems true, according to Huggies Snug & Dry reviews, providing a fit that's tight without any discomfort. The elastic waistband and adjustable tabs lend an assist here, especially for children with larger bottoms. Complaints about rashes are few and far between, and a smattering of parents writes that skin irritations cleared up with Snug & Dry. Another plus is the affordable price, especially when stacked against Pampers Snugglers and Cruisers and other Huggies diaper lines.
Not surprisingly, some online posts push back against the accolades. Leakage and inadequate absorbency are problems regardless whether the child is awake or sleeping, a minority contends; one parent says the diapers seem too stiff to hold much (although another comments on their "cloth-like" feel). We read several reports about having switched to the brand's Little Movers line when the baby's activity level kicked into high gear. BabyGearLab determined in a comparative test of 24 diaper lines that Snug & Dry's absorption was only average and leaking was prevalent.
Like most lower-cost diapers, Huggies Snug & Dry (from 19 cents/diaper, Amazon) comes in six sizes, with the smallest meant to accommodate 8-pound babies and the largest designed for toddlers weighing 35 pounds and more. The sides, back, and leg holes are stretchable, and unlike some of the budget competition, sizes 1 and 2 feature a wetness indicator. Also unusual in this price range is the Mickey Mouse (Disney) character decoration. Purchasers are invited to take advantage of Huggies' tie-in with Disney for merchandise points and sweepstakes.
Price makes this budget version of a premium label appealing. Reviewers note the availability of free samples and coupons on the company's website, so if you're unsure about trying Huggies Snug & Dry, start there.
The strong, but not unanimous, consensus about Pampers Baby Dry is that this cheaper line of diapers from a leading brand is a good deal. Many caregivers are drawn to Baby Dry first for the price and ultimately stick with the product for performance, fit, and comfort. Scores of reviews on sites such as Amazon and Viewpoints attest to their ability to keep babies dry and prevent leakage; in other words, they rank high on the absorbency meter. Baby Dry is so reliable, one parent writes, that she is sure to use them on days when it's not possible to change her child's diaper frequently. Many parents report that Baby Dry holds a lot, seemingly more than other brands, and doesn't cause skin irritations.
And yet, we came across a number of critical reviews complaining about the usual diaper-related disappointments: blowouts, leakage, and rashes. Some feedback contends that this line isn't as soft as Pampers' pricier Swaddlers and Cruisers diapers, looks and feels low quality, doesn't fit as well, and requires many daytime changes -- forget about overnight. There was also some grousing about hard-to-use tabs.
Pampers Baby Dry (from 24 cents/diaper, Amazon) claims to provide up to 12 hours of dryness while the baby sleeps. A wide core and multiple layers, including one that's stamped with a raised pattern, are identified in product marketing as the protective features. There are stretchy sides, an adjustable waist, and a cotton-like feel to the outer shell, which is decorated with Sesame Street characters. These diapers come in seven sizes, starting with newborn for babies weighing less than 10 pounds, and climbing up to size 6 for toddlers weighing 35 pounds and more. Unlike other bargain-priced diapers, Pampers Baby Dry features a wetness indicator for all sizes.
This line from Pampers sits at the top of the Cheapism price range. Parents of heavy wetters may want to use a cheaper brand for daytime and relegate Baby Dry to nighttime duty to stretch their value.
Frequent specials, such as buy-one-get-one-free, often mean these diapers are available at rock-bottom prices, but Walgreens Well Beginnings reviews suggest buyers should think twice before plunging ahead. The house-brand product's performance seems to be as varied as the sales sticker. While some reviewers are partial to Walgreens baby diapers, most are more impressed with low prices than overall quality.
The newborn size earns an average 3.3 stars on the company website, where some parents commend the performance and sizing, as well as the price, while others complain about skin breakouts and leakage. Well Beginnings reviews of size 4 are more consistently positive. Some assert they beat out the name-brand competition (e.g., Huggies and Pampers) for leakage and absorbency, but others contend the cheap price is deceiving because the baby goes through more diapers. We also read posts claiming that the diaper material doesn't absorb quickly or hold liquid well, so the diapers often sag and require frequent changing -- some say almost immediately after urination. A few say Parent's Choice diapers, Walmart's in-house brand, are cheaper and do a better job.
Some feedback posted at Viewpoints links these diapers to rashes on the wearers despite the fact that the brand boasts a soft, hypoallergenic lining. Aside from the discomfort that accompanies skin irritations, these diapers also lose points with reviewers for comfort and feel; several contend Well Beginnings isn't as soft as other brands.
Walgreens Well Beginnings diapers come in seven sizes, starting with newborn for babies weighing 10 pounds or less. Like most other bargain diaper brands, this one maxes out at size 6 for toddlers weighing 35 pounds and up. The waist and side panels are soft and stretchy. The hypoallergenic inner liner features botanicals, vitamin E, and aloe.
Although many reviews urge stocking up when offered at deep discounts, the regular list price is on par with bigger-name and better-performing brands. Unless the price is too good to pass up, don't bother, especially if the baby is a heavy wetter.
Other Products We Reviewed
Cloth diapers are a category unto themselves, filled with dozens of brands and styles, and the one-size-fits-all BumGenius 4.0 is a leading player. Reviews say these diapers are highly absorbent and as easy to put on a baby as disposables. At Diaper Pin, for example, parents laud the overall quality and performance -- snug, comfortable, and no leakage. One bought used diapers that had been worn by at least two children, replaced the elastic at the top, and reported they are as leak-proof as new. The inserts hold a lot of waste, reviews say, and one asserts that the baby stays dry longer than with bamboo diapers, another cloth variant. Using an extra insert provides extra protection.
Although most BumGenius 4.0 reviews say the universal size works, parent feedback indicates that one size doesn't always fit all. Some struggle with the diaper's bulkiness, especially on smaller babies. For babies weighing less than 12 pounds, BumGenius's newborn version may be an alternative.
Caregivers say the diapers wash up well and, according to a post at Amazon, emerge without odors or stains even when hand-washed. (Tip from one mother: Hanging diapers in the sun to dry helps minimize staining.) And while one father's review grouses about the exacting and time-consuming machine-washing routine, a chunk of parents happily note they save hundreds of dollars by using cloth rather than disposable diapers.
BumGenius 4.0 diapers (from $17.50/diaper, Amazon) consist of a waterproof outer shell and a microfiber cloth that's inserted into the diaper before using; each diaper comes with two inserts, one intended for a newborn. The diaper is designed for babies weighing between 8 and 35-plus pounds. It fastens at the top with a "butterfly" closure and adjusts for size with snaps or hooks and loops. There are stretchy sides and elastic around the legs and in the back. A stash of 12 to 24 diapers should be sufficient, and many diapers are put to use a second time around.
Washable BumGenius 4.0 diapers are an eco-friendly choice, and ultimately a frugal one. They're widely available at brick-and-mortar stores, online, and on the secondhand-baby-gear circuit.
Assessments of Cuties, a relative upstart, are very enthusiastic. Indeed, many reviewers admit to trying these diapers just to see what all the hype has been about. The makers of Cuties brand diapers got their start making products to handle adult incontinence.
Cuties diapers earn high praise for the softness and flexibility of the shells. Many caregivers say they were pleasantly surprised by the absorbency and leak protection, aided by a seal around the legs, even overnight, and ranked them alongside pricier lines such as Huggies Little Movers and Pampers Cruisers. One post at Viewpoints notes that the coverage area seems particularly well suited to larger children even as another at Drugstore.com says they fit nicely under clothes. Some reviews assert that rashes ostensibly caused by other diaper brands cleared up with Cuties even though they lack the chemical-free features of Seventh Generation Free & Clear and Earth's Best TenderCare. Others, however, failed to detect any performance improvement over economy store brands offered by the likes of Target and Walgreens.
In expert testing on 24 diaper labels by BabyGearLab, Cuties emerged a "best value" for price, durability, and above average absorption. Testers liked the fit and feel of the diaper but recorded slightly more than average problems with leakage and dinged it for ecological and health features. Overall, Cuties placed ninth among the sample competition, a perch that exceeded several Huggies lines, Target Up & Up, and Luvs Ultra Leakguards.
Cuties (from 18 cents/diaper, Amazon) are sized for newborns weighing up to 10 pounds and incrementally up through size 6 for children weighing more than 35 pounds. The Cuties liner is hypoallergenic and contains chamomile, aloe, and vitamin E. As on most other diapers in its class, the side panels and back waistband are stretchy. Reviews say the tabs are sufficiently strong.
With Cuties available primarily online, parents can't count on running to the store for a last-minute purchase. But a little forward planning nets quality diapers at a cheap price.